Sokendai Review of Cultural and Social Studies


vol.15 (2019)

Imperial Consciousness of the Emperor Kanmu


Department of Japanese Studies
School of Cultural and Social Studies
SOKENDAI (The Graduate University for Advanced Studies)

Key words:

Emperor Kanmu, Imperial Consciousness, Nagaoka-kyo, Heian period

This paper discusses the imperial consciousness of the Emperor Kanmu from prior to and immediately after accession to the throne to transfer of the capital to Heian-kyo in 794.

In 770, Prince Shirakabe, the grandchild of Emperor Tenchi, was enthroned as Emperor Konin after Emperor Shotoku died. Although the imperial line had succeeded from Emperor Tenmu, there had been a string of power struggles, and Prince Shirakabe, a descendent of Emperor Tenchi, became Emperor Konin following the order of succession. After enthronement, Emperor Konin named Imperial Princess Inoe Empress and Imperial Prince Osabe Crown Prince. Due to the humble background of Emperor Kanmu’s mother as a naturalized clansman, there was no hope for the Emperor to become crown prince even after his father, Prince Shirakabe, was enthroned, but he aimed to succeed as a government bureaucrat. However, he charged Imperial Princess Inoe with high treason for cursing and removed the Empress and Crown Prince Osabe.

The Emperor Kanmu’s accession to the throne was a great epoch in history. With the transfer of the capital, the Nara period completely ended and the Heian period commenced. He was enthroned in Heijyo-kyo and the capital was moved to Nagaoka-kyo in A.D. 784. It is thought that the transfer of the national capital to Nagaoka-kyo was conducted to eliminate outdated thinking and concepts and to enhance the authority of the emperor. The Heian period attached great importance to the Providence Theory; Kanototori is one of the zodiac signs in Chinese astrology and is said to be the year of revolution. It is believed that Emperor Kanmu strongly admired China; he imitated Tang emperors and performed Koshi two times.

Some people, however, were dissatisfied with Kanmu’s policies and launched a coup d’état. Many of the royal family members were subjected to criminal punishment. After transferring the capital to Nagaoka-kyo, Fujiwara no Tanetsugu was assassinated. After this incident, the Imperial Prince Sawara and Ioe were completely removed from the line of succession of the Imperial Throne. The succession to the Imperial Throne shall devolved on a direct line to Imperial Prince Aden.

After the death of Emperor Kanmu, the princes ascended to the throne in order; the reforms by Emperor Heizei, the next emperor after Kanmu, were no less positive than the reforms by Kanmu. A new order of succession to the throne composed only of paternal bloodline was completed.